A Look Back at 40’s Fashion

This post was written by a student in Utah Valley University's dramaturgy program. A dramaturg is the member of the creative and technical team for a production who researches the history, context and details of a performance, ensuring accuracy and clarity for all.

Hi, Laura here. I’m the dramaturg for UVU’s upcoming production of Much Ado About Nothing, which is set in 1945 right after World War II ended.  I have to say, I am obsessed with all things vintage, but the 40’s especially just had it made.  It was an absolutely iconic time where glamour and class came together with the comfort and practicality that wartime demands.  To get “In the Mood” for our big-band, war-era, Shakespearean rom-com extravaganza, I wanted to take a quick look back at some of the popular fashion movements of the time.

Wartime meant rations, shortages, and practicality became the driving force behind style.  Blouses and dresses were simple, clean cut, and unadorned.  It was considered a waste if there was decorative pieces on clothing.  Before the 1940’s, women really just wore skirts.  But then World War II gets going, and suddenly women are being called upon to enter the workforce and do the jobs “their boys” left behind when they left to go fight.  This included hard labor, factory work, farming, and other occupations that demanded more flexibility than a skirt could afford.  So to get the men’s jobs done, women started putting on men’s pants.

At the beginning, many were extremely critical of the trend.  In 1939, Vogue published the statement, “We deplore the crop of young women who take war as an excuse for letting their hair down and parading around in slacks.  Slack, we think, is the word.”  But it didn’t take long before designers realized this was a market opportunity and pants actually made for women began to be manufactured. 

Women’s slacks resembled men’s; they would fall loosely around the ankle and had a kind of boxy appearance, with a crease down the front of each leg.  The natural waistline up by the bellybutton was the most popular, with large or oversized “kangaroo” pockets.  They had side zippers or buttons to keep them fastened, as the front zipper style meant for men was considered vulgar for women.  Blue jeans and coveralls also became popular.  Rosie the Riveter sported denim coveralls in the iconic “We Can Do It!” propaganda poster, which look has been recreated for the main heroine Beatrice in Much Ado.  Pin those curls, people!  Get your tickets now to see this era brought to life in Shakespeare’s classic.